I’m asked regularly about cups for babies and toddlers, and even have a blog on what cup to use and when. However, Stacey from @feedeatspeak, who is a Speech and Language Therapist has some really fab information about the types of cups to offer babies and toddlers, including (relatively) new recommendations around using cups with straws.
Some of this information is new to me as, when working in the NHS, we used to talk only about open cups. So, this is really fascinating stuff, and I’m so grateful to Stacey for sharing her expertise on this.
Stacey recommends (as do I) using open cups at the start of weaning to teach babies how to start learning to sip and drink water successfully and to promote the use of normal oral motor development (check out my blog for information on Water for Babies which covers HOW MUCH and WHEN to offer it).
Stacey also recommends trying out cups with straws during weaning, but there are a few caveats to look out for when choosing a straw cup. I’ve outlined the information below on different styles and types of cups that you might want to try (or not try) with your baby.
Ultimately, the best thing to do is to start weaning with an open cup and start to introduce a convenient straw cup alongside this at around 9 months of age once your baby has begun to master the skills of self-feeding from an open cup. It can be introduced earlier but typically skills needed for straw drinking can be mastered at around 9 months.
Which cups are best for babies and toddlers?
Ideally you want babies to be able to drink from an open cup. That’s what we do as adults and they need to practise: HOW to drink, how to control the cup, how to control how much they swallow and also to learn to master the sipping action. Open cups will help with all of this, but it can result in a lot of mess whilst baby is learning. Mess is expected during weaning and it’s actually something we encourage whilst they learn HOW to master the open cup.
However, to help them learn to drink from a cup you can:
- Offer small amounts of water in a small cup only
- Offer light cups that are easy for baby to grip and manage
- Role model yourself HOW to use the cup
- Support baby to hold the cup initially
- Keep trying at each mealtime and keep it light and pressure free
- Accept the mess – it’s only water
Open cups really are the best for helping your baby to learn to drink, so they should be the first port of call when you start weaning your baby. They help babies to use the same muscles in the same way that are used during breastfeeding, so they are a good transition IF you’re wanting to offer a breastfed baby some milk in a cup for any particular reason (you don’t need to do this, FYI, water only in the cup is fine!.
Best brands of open cups
Some of my favourite brands of open cups include:
Really tiny to allow for baby’s tiny hands to grip and hold it. This is great as a first cup for baby, you’ll need to support baby to use it to begin with. You can see my post and blog on this on the Baby Cup Website.
These are larger cups but they have a slanted design which helps you to see how much water is at the rim and avoid them taking too much at once. They also have little handles to help encourages self-feeding
Cogni Kids Cup
These ones are fab for babies little gripping and encouraging self-feeding. They are also pretty small and light so easy for baby to handle. You can now also get these with a lid and straw (see below for more info on straws)
Cups with straws
In real life practical terms, many parents are looking for non-spill cups to take out and about with them and to reduce some of that mess from babies tipping water all over their meal and clothes. In these instances, as a second cup option for drinking more on the go, then a straw cup is a good alternative option to offer to babies ALONGSIDE an open cup.
If you’re going for a straw cup, you need to look out for these things:
- Choose one that doesn’t have a valve (is free-flowing) as valves change how a baby sucks the fluid, either changing their tongue position and/or involving lips and gums. These are abnormal sucking and drinking patters which can be avoided with a valve free straw.
- Choose one with a weighted straw as this allows for more flexibility with how they drink and more likelihood for success when using. With a weighted straw they can tip the cup and still manage to get water from it. Weighted straws make it easier for baby to manage this independently.
- Look for a short, firm straw so that baby has the straw at the front of their mouth when drinking – just behind the teeth as this promotes a more mature swallowing pattern and helps them use their lips for sucking instead of biting on a large straw.
Some other things to look out that can be helpful include:
- Flip top lids that keep the straw clean and prevent spills
- Ones that are dishwasher proof for easier cleaning
One of the only cups that ticks these boxes in the UK is @tumtumtots cup, which I recently got for Raffy and Ada. Other brands have free flowing straws which aren’t weighted. They include cognikids, and bamboo bamboo, whose straws stand within a lid.
Ideally offer these types of cup at around 9 months of age, alongside open cups, and once baby has started to practise self-feeding water. The main advantage of these is spill reduction so ideally use an open cup as their main cup for drinking with meals and a straw cup for drinking out and about and on occasions, if needed.
When it comes to using both these cups, practice is KEY, so keep trying, role modelling and letting them explore both options.
From 12 months of age the NHS recommends moving to an open cup and not offering a bottle anymore. Offering open cups or straw cups as described above is ideal as an alternative to the bottle. The straw cups can be a really practical option for the switch.
Other types of cups
Spouted Beakers – These aren’t great for oral motor development in babies and young children. Hard spouts are also not great for tongue positioning as may limit their swallowing skill development.
You can absolutely use these every now and then, but ideally use non-valved (not spill proof options) as valves can create unusual oral motor pattern development.
360 Munchkin style – Again not ideal for oral motor development and developing skills needed to sip, rather than suck. Fine for use every now and then, but not ideal for every day use. If using these though, try and offer them alongside plenty of opportunity to try out the open cups too!
A quick summary of what to look for in a baby cup (from Stacey at Feed Eat Speak):
- No valves (free-flowing options) – you can always pull valves out (if placed inside the cup) or cut them off if needed – they are usually on the inside of the cup by the spout/straw.
- Offer open cups from the start of weaning – babies will need plenty of practise to develop the skills to use these
- Straw cups are fine to offer to baby from around 9 months of age or earlier if they have the skills to drink from them. Choose non-valved ones with short, firm straws and a close-able lid to reduce spills and keep it clean. Go for a weighted straw to start with so that baby can use it more effectively and easily.
- If offering other cups, only use them occasionally and not as the main cups for your baby/child.
For more information check out my blogs on:
And my three part blog series on looking after kids teeth